Six million euros to quantify European greenhouse gas emissions

Utrecht University leads major collaboration

Under the coordination of Utrecht University, seventeen organizations will be working together over the next four years to improve detection and measurement of all major greenhouse gases in eight European countries. The new insights are vital to improve strategies for greenhouse gas mitigation, and improve the countries’ emission reports requested annually by the United Nations. The project, named PARIS received 6 million euros from the Horizon Europe funding programme.

Once a year, the RIVM and partners will draw up a National Inventory Report for the Netherlands, and send it to the United Nations. This report will contain an overview of all major greenhouse gas emissions, and is a requirement for all 198 countries that are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement. These members include the eight participating countries in this project: The Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, UK, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, and Ireland.

Improve reports

PARIS (PRocess Attribution of Regional EmISsions) aims to improve these mandatory inventory reports. It will develop new methods for detecting and measuring a countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from atmospheric observations. PARIS will also make new emission estimates for F-gases, and organic matter aerosols, and black carbon, both important climate forcers. “We want to know where these compounds are originating from, and how large the emissions are”, says project leader Thomas Röckmann, who is a professor of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry at Utrecht University.

When methane is measured close to a farm we can be quite sure that the cows are the source. In PARIS we combine measurements with weather models on winds and atmospheric transport over much longer distances, to find out where emissions originate from.

Counting cows

Current methods that are used to build the National Inventory Reports are based on mathematical models. They use the knowledge of activities that are associated with greenhouse gas emission in different sectors of the economy. As a simple example, researchers determine how much of the greenhouse gas methane is emitted by a cow, and then they add up all the cows in the country to get an overall emission number. “These so-called bottom-up methods are a useful first assumption, especially in countries like the Netherlands where good statistical information is available”, Röckmann argues. “However, they can lead to under- or overestimation of emissions, especially in countries with less robust statistical information, or because the emissions from cows are simply different in high- and low-intensity agriculture.”

Switzerland and the UK are already adding information from the top-down approach to the National Emission Reports. With PARIS we will implement this for several EU countries

Assumption error

PARIS will reconcile this approach with top-down methods. These involve the actual measurement of gases in the atmosphere. Using greenhouse gas measurements and atmospheric models researchers can determine how much of the gases are emitted from different areas. “These atmospheric measurement techniques have gotten a lot better, and we have reached the point where they can be applied and combined”, Röckmann adds. “Our partners from Switzerland and the UK are already adding information from the top-down approach to the National Emission Reports. With PARIS we will implement this for several EU countries.”

In the case of inventory reports, the top-down methods serve as a double check of the bottom-up results. A process that has been proven useful already: in the UK, atmospheric data brought to light a major assumption error that was incorporated in the calculations. The data suggested that the UK had over-estimated, by around 100 percent, emissions of a potent greenhouse gas used in car air conditioners.

Maximum impact

As a result of PARIS, the national inventory reports will become more accurate. These improved data will help the participating countries optimize their mitigation efforts. It will also be possible to keep track of the effect of mitigation activities, and certain mitigation policies. Röckmann concludes: “With close collaboration with the inventory teams, and the direct synthesis of our findings in the annual inventory reports, we are confident we will generate maximum impact of our research efforts in our focus countries and help limit climate change.”

Image reference: Hensen, A. (2012). Methods for observation and quantification of trace gas emissions from diffuse sources. [PhD-Thesis – Research external, graduation internal, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam]. Ipskam Drukkerij.